Tuesday Reads: Last Words on Kobe Bryant

Good Morning!!

Two days after the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, there has been almost no attention paid to the other 7 people who died in the tragic accident. Read about them at Buzzfeed News: Teenage Girls And Beloved Coaches Were Among The 9 Victims Of The Helicopter Crash That Killed Kobe Bryant.

John Altobelli, a 56-year-old head baseball coach at Orange Coast College, along with his wife, Keri, and youngest daughter, Alyssa, 13, were among those who died.

Alyssa and Gianna were teammates at Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy. The team was set to play against a Fresno youth team on Sunday afternoon, the Fresno Bee reported.

John Altobelli had been a coach and mentor at Orange Coast College (OCC) for 27 years, helping many student-athletes earn scholarships so they could play at the four-year level, the college said in a statement.

“Coach Alto,” the college said, helped lead the Pirates to more than 700 wins and four state championships. He was named the National Coach of the Year by the American Baseball Coaches Association in 2019.

Altobelli family

The Altobelli’s are survived by two other children, a son JJ and daughter Lexi, now orphans.

Christina Mauser, 38, was the assistant coach for the Mamba Academy basketball team.

“My kids and I are devastated,” her husband, Matt Mauser, wrote in a Facebook post. “We lost our beautiful wife and mom today in a helicopter crash.”

The couple has three children, ages 11, 9, and 3….

Sarah Chester and her 13-year-old daughter, Payton, also died in the crash. Payton was a basketball player, NBC News reported.

Todd Schmidt, the former principal at Harbor View Elementary School, wrote a heartfelt tribute to Payton, his former student, and her mother, calling them “two gorgeous human beings.”

“While the world mourns the loss of a dynamic athlete and humanitarian, I mourn the loss of two people just as important…their impact was just as meaningful, their loss will be just as keenly felt, and our hearts are just as broken,” Schmidt wrote in a Facebook post.

Christina Mauser

Chester leaves behind a husband Chris and two 16-year-old sons Hayden and Riley.

Ara Zobayan, the pilot of the helicopter, was a beloved figure in the aviation community. He was “instrument-rated” which meant he was able to fly in fog and clouds, KTLA reporter Christina Pascucci said.

Zobayan was Bryant’s private pilot, according to one of his flight students, Darren Kemp.

So many people–including young children–are devastated by these deaths, but all the attention has gone to the former basketball player. I still can’t get past my anger at the lionizing of Bryant, who was credibly accused of rape and never publicly dealt with the damage he did to the life of a 19-year-old woman. Ever since I saw the way the basketball stars were treated as if they could do no wrong in my high school, I’ve resented the way athletes are allowed to get away with almost anything, especially violence against women.

Sarah and Payton Chester

Somewhere the woman that Bryant raped is watching the coverage of his death and most likely reliving the trauma she experienced as she sees so much praise heaped upon her abuser.

On Sunday, Jill Filipovic wrote that Bryant has a “complicated legacy.” No, it’s not really complicated. He was a huge basketball star with a giant ego and he got away with rape. He’s certainly not alone in that. Gavin Polone at the Hollywood Reporter:

I guess our society thinks that certain transgressions by celebrities can be forgiven. What’s perplexing is the con­trast between which wrongs are and aren’t forgivable. Based on what I’ve read, I believe Kobe most probably raped a woman and still was paid $26 million in 2015 by Nike, Hublot, Panini Authentic, Turkish Airlines and others to endorse their products; Ben Roethlisberger was accused of raping two women and still made more than $35 million for one year as an NFL quarterback; Greg Hardy certainly beat the shit out of his ex-girlfriend and was signed to play defensive end for the Dallas Cowboys; Jameis Winston was sued for the rape of a student at FSU and didn’t even break stride to the NFL (having watched the victim’s recounting of events, I believe her). Both R. Kelly and Michael Jackson were accused of sexual misconduct, yet the former still is performing and the latter practically has been deified.

But what isn’t forgiven? Killing someone? Nope, Ray Lewis was accused of that, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and now is an NFL analyst for ESPN. Donte Stallworth killed a pedestrian while driving drunk and played the next year. So violence, especially against women, can be excused.

Ara Zobayan

Here’s a piece at Vice by Albert Berneko that counters Filipovic’s “complicated legacy” notion: Kobe Bryant Was No More Complicated Than Anyone Else.

Maybe the actual very last thing the world needs or ever will need, ever again, is for one more man’s power or fame or brilliance or death to be used as a reason to throw the word “complicated” over his abuses like an obscuring blanket. It’s a dishonest sidestep, anyway. Everyone is complicated. You can be a tortured mass of endless complications and still never sexually assault anyone.

What the fact of having committed, or having credibly been accused of committing, sexual assault complicates for an acclaimed celebrity is the feelings—or maybe, at most, the immediate social situation—of those who’d like to go right on celebrating him. Ironically, or maybe not ironically, nothing smooths this complication more easily than the word “complicated”: Be sure to include it in your hosannas. It is a way to skip past the discomfort and ambiguity of actually grappling with the acclaimed celebrity’s monstrousness straight to the part where you congratulate yourself for having done so. I have integrated the fullness of this imperfect person; when I now return to praising him, be sure that it is with the appropriate level of personal internal conflicted feeling.

It seems reasonable to guess that former Los Angeles Laker star Kobe Bryant was a complicated person, because he was a person and not the Archangel Gabriel. More relevant to a summation of his life, he was also a great and spectacular basketball player, one of the biggest stars in the history of the sport, and a powerful man who, in 2003 and at the height of his celebrity, was credibly accused of raping a 19-year-old hotel employee and then avoided a trial by leaking his accuser’s identity and shaming her into silence. I don’t think these things complicate each other, unless you happen to believe there’s a personal moral component to being good at making contested jump-shots.

Marty Baron

To top off the protect-Kobe hysteria, Marty Baron, editor of the Washington Post–who was editor of the Boston Globe when the Spotlight team exposed sexual abuse in the Catholic Church–publicly shamed one of his reporters, Felicia Sonmez who is a survivor of sexual assault.

Vanity Fair:  “There’s Incredible Outrage”: Washington Post Newsroom Revolts after Reporter Suspended for Kobe Bryant Tweets.

As the collective grief crested on Twitter following TMZ’s shocking scoop that Kobe Bryant had been killed in a helicopter crash, Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez had a different idea. She shared a 2016 Daily Beast story detailing a rape allegation made against the NBA legend more than a decade earlier. “Any public figure is worth remembering in their totality,” she tweeted Sunday, “even if that public figure is beloved and that totality unsettling.”

Vitriol and threats streamed into Sonmez’s inbox, which she relayed on Twitter, along with screenshots of the attacks. The Bryant-related tweets have since been deleted. By Sunday afternoon, Somnez had been suspended—placed on “administrative leave”—a move that’s prompted anger and confusion inside the Post newsroom. “There’s incredible outrage. The outrage is like nothing I’ve ever seen here,” one Post source told us. “People just feel like it was way over the top.”

The Daily Beast article was an exhaustive chronicle of the allegations against Bryant and his response to them. While far from flattering to Bryant, it described an inescapable part of his history, and, fraught as social media can be in the current world of journalism, it was difficult for many to see how posting it was out of bounds. Post staffers were looking for clarity Monday after managing editor Tracy Grant said in a statement that Sonmez violated the newsroom’s social media policy and “displayed poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues.”

Felicia Sonmez

I hope you’ll go read the rest. Sonmez spent the night in a hotel after her address was posted on-line by outraged Kobe fans. I’d also suggest reading this piece in the Post by Eric Wemple: The Post’s misguided suspension of Felicia Sonmez over Kobe Bryant tweets.

I’ll be quiet about this now, but I just had to get it off my chest. I can acknowledge that millions of people are sad about the death of their idol. I just think there should be some recognition that the way we treat (male) athletes in our culture means that the people who dare to say no to their desires are publicly shamed and punished.

Some other news stories to check out today:

On the Bolton revelations:

NYT: Bolton Was Concerned That Trump Did Favors for Autocratic Leaders, Book Says.

WaPo: Bolton book roils Washington as onetime allies turn on Trump’s former national security adviser.

Barbara McQuade at WaPo: Trump waived executive privilege when he called Bolton a liar.

Daily Beast: Top Ukraine Official: I Trusted Bolton More Than Anyone.

Other impeachment news and comment:

Axios: Republicans brace for domino effect on witnesses.

Impeachment expert Frank Bowman at The Atlantic: Trump’s Defense Against Subpoenas Makes No Legal Sense.

WaPo: Trump’s impeachment defense: Who is paying the president’s lawyers?

Jamelle Bouie at NYT: Mitch McConnell’s Complicity Has Deep Roots.

Vetting Bernie Sanders (finally)

NYT: Bernie Sanders and His Internet Army.

David Frum at the Atlantic: Bernie Can’t Win.

Richard North Patterson at the Bulwark: This Is How Trump Would Destroy Bernie Sanders.

Jonathan Chait at NY Mag: Running Bernie Sanders Against Trump Would Be an Act of Insanity.

Other campaign news:

NYT: How Some People of Color Feel Inside the Buttigieg Campaign.

Politico: Why Biden scaled back in New Hampshire.

What stories are you following today?

 


Tuesday Reads: Senate Impeachment “Trial” Begins

Chief Justice John Roberts presides over the impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump.

Good Morning!!

The Senate impeachment “trial” begins this afternoon, and Mitch McConnell is doing his damnedest to make sure it won’t be a real or fair one. Awhile back, McConnell said this trial would follow the rules set for Bill Clinton’s impeachment, but–surprise!–that was just one big fat lie.

Nicholas Fandos at The New York Times: McConnell Impeachment Rules Modify Clinton Precedent.

But when Mr. McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, finally released a draft of his resolution on Monday evening, less than 24 hours before the Senate was expected to consider it, there were several meaningful differences from the rules that governed Mr. Clinton’s impeachment, some of which were in line with Mr. Trump’s preferences and his legal team’s strategy.

The measure is expected to pass on Tuesday along party lines, over strenuous Democratic objections….

Mitch McConnell and pals

Like in the Clinton trial, the Democratic House impeachment managers and Mr. Trump’s defense lawyers will have up to 24 hours to argue their respective cases for and against conviction on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. But in 1999, the Senate imposed no additional limit on how the time was used. Mr. McConnell’s proposal states that each side much complete its work within two days, beginning as early as Wednesday.

That means opening arguments could be finished by the end of this week, allowing the senators 16 hours for questioning and a subsequent debate early next week over whether to consider witness testimony. In the fastest possible scenario, the Senate could vote to convict or acquit by the end of January….

When the Clinton trial opened, the Senate “admitted into evidence,” printed and shared with senators all records generated by the House impeachment inquiry into Mr. Clinton. Not so this time.

Though the House’s evidence from the Trump impeachment inquiry would still be printed and shared with senators, it would only be formally considered by the Senate as part of its official record if a majority of senators voted to do so. That vote could only take place after the Senate decided whether to call witnesses and seek additional documents — that is, as the trial moves toward conclusion.

So it’s already looking like a kangaroo court, which surprises no one. McConnell’s rules also don’t guarantee there will be new witnesses or documents.

It says that after senators conclude their questioning, they will not immediately entertain motions to call individual witnesses or documents. Instead, they will decide first whether they want to consider new evidence at all. Only if a majority of senators agree to do so will the managers and prosecutors be allowed to propose and argue for specific witnesses or documents, each of which would then be subject to an additional vote.

If a majority of the Senate ultimately did vote to call a witness for testimony, that witness would first be interviewed behind closed doors and then the “Senate shall decide after deposition which witnesses shall testify, pursuant to the impeachment rules,” if any. Consistent with the Clinton trial rules, this essentially means that even if witnesses are called, they might never testify in public.

Naturally Democrats are not going to take this lying down. The House impeachment managers are holding a press conference right now and Chuck Schumer has already stated his objections. He told NPR this morning that McConnell’s rules are “a national disgrace” and told MSNBC that “Everything in these rules is rigged.” Right now Jerry Nadler is saying that McConnell’s rules amount to an obvious cover-up.

The White House is doing it’s best to make sure the “trial” will be a complete joke. The Hill reports on the Republican impeachment “advisers”:

The White House announced Monday that President Trump appointed several prominent Republican House members to advise his impeachment defense team ahead of the Senate trial set to begin this week.

GOP Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio), John Ratcliffe Texas), Mike Johnson (La.), Mark Meadows (N.C.), Debbie Lesko (Ariz.), Lee Zeldin (N.Y.), Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) and Doug Collins are set to play leading roles.

A statement from the White House said the lawmakers “have provided guidance to the White House team, which was prohibited from participating in the proceedings concocted by Democrats in the House of Representatives” throughout the House proceedings and would continue to do so in the Senate.

You’ll notice that those are the Reps who tried to turn the House impeachment process into a shriekfest. According to the Hill, Democrats and even even some GOP Senators didn’t like the idea of House members getting involved in the Senate process.

Key Republican allies in the Senate have also warned against such appointments, warning that the addition of Republican House members would cast the Senate trial in a partisan light.

“I don’t think it’s wise. I think we need to elevate the argument beyond body politics, beyond party politics and talk about the constitutional problems with these two articles,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters earlier this month.

I wonder if McConnell is at all worried about what the public reaction could be to a show trial. The latest CNN poll found that 51 percent of Americans think Trump should be removed from office and 69 percent believe that the Senate trial should include witnesses.

The poll is the first major national telephone poll since the articles of impeachment were sent to the Senate, formally launching Trump’s trial there. They are also the first such poll results since Soviet-born businessman Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani, publicly implicated the President in the Ukrainian pressure campaign during a series of television interviews.

The new poll also finds majorities of Americans view each of the charges on which Trump will face trial as true: 58% say Trump abused the power of the presidency to obtain an improper personal political benefit and 57% say it is true that he obstructed the House of Representatives in its impeachment inquiry.

Of course there are partisan, gender, race, age, and geographical differences in attitudes toward the trial:

Overall, 89% of Democrats say he should be removed from office, while just 8% of Republicans feel the same way. Among independents, it’s nearly dead even: 48% say the Senate should vote to remove him, while 46% say that they should not. Views on whether Trump should be impeached and removed are also evenly split across battleground states, 49% are on each side across the 15 states decided by 8 points or less in 2016. Those states are Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

House impeachment managers take articles of impeachment to Senate.

Beyond partisanship, there are wide divisions in the poll by gender, race, education and age. Nearly six in 10 women (59%) say the Senate should remove Trump from office; 42% of men agree. Among African Americans, 86% say Trump should be removed. That drops to 65% among Hispanics and 42% among whites.

Combining race and gender, about eight in 10 women of color (79%) say he should be removed. That dips to 59% among non-white men, 49% among white women and 33% among white men. For whites, education adds another degree of division: 59% of white women with college degrees say the Senate should remove Trump, compared with 43% among white women without degrees, 44% among white men with degrees and 27% among white men without college degrees. A majority (56%) of those under age 45 say the President should be removed, while older Americans are more evenly split (47% in favor among those age 45 and over, 50% opposed).

This from Politico is shocking, but not surprising: Justice Department backed Trump strongarm of House impeachment probe.

The Justice Department secretly blessed President Donald Trump’s decision to stonewall the Democratic-led House over impeachment last year, the president’s legal team disclosed Monday.

The legal brief submitted to the Senate as part of Trump’s defense includes an opinion from the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel concluding that Trump was justified in categorically rejecting the House’s demands for information before lawmakers passed a formal impeachment resolution on October 31.

“We conclude that the House must expressly authorize a committee to conduct an impeachment investigation and to use compulsory process in that investigation before the committee may compel the production of documents or testimony in support of the House’s sole power of impeachment,” Assistant Attorney General Steven Engel wrote in the detailed legal rationale.

The opinion was officially dated Sunday and released by the Justice Department on its website Monday, timing that appeared to dovetail with a Senate-set noon, holiday deadline for Trump’s first substantive brief in the impeachment trial.

Chuck Schumer is giving a press conference right now. He is emphasizing that McConnell is trying to make sure that Americans don’t watch the trial because it will begin in the afternoon and last late into the night and early morning hours. There will be a battle between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate today, but so far it appears that McConnell has to votes to pass his ridiculous rules.

The White House is also trying to make sure the American people don’t hear from John Bolton. The Washington Post: Trump’s lawyers, Senate GOP allies work privately to ensure Bolton does not testify publicly.

President Trump’s legal defense team and Senate GOP allies are quietly gaming out contingency plans should Democrats win enough votes to force witnesses to testify in the impeachment trial, including an effort to keep former national security adviser John Bolton from the spotlight, according to multiple officials familiar with the discussions.

While Republicans continue to express confidence that Democrats will fail to persuade four GOP lawmakers to break ranks with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has opposed calling any witnesses in the trial, they are readying a Plan B just in case — underscoring how uncertain they are about prevailing in a showdown over witnesses and Bolton’s possible testimony.

One option being discussed, according to a senior administration official, would be to move Bolton’s testimony to a classified setting because of national security concerns, ensuring that it is not public.

To receive the testimony in a classified session, Trump’s attorneys would have to request such a step, according to one official, adding that it would probably need the apReaproval of 51 senators.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

Here are a couple of good articles analyzing Trump’s impeachment defense.

From Charlie Savage at The New York Times: ‘Constitutional Nonsense’: Trump’s Impeachment Defense Defies Legal Consensus.

As President Trump’s impeachment trial opens, his lawyers have increasingly emphasized a striking argument: Even if he did abuse his powers in an attempt to bully Ukraine into interfering in the 2020 election on his behalf, it would not matter because the House never accused him of committing an ordinary crime.

Their argument is widely disputed. It cuts against the consensus among scholars that impeachment exists to remove officials who abuse power. The phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” means a serious violation of public trust that need not also be an ordinary crime, said Frank O. Bowman III, a University of Missouri law professor and the author of a recent book on the topic.

“This argument is constitutional nonsense,” Mr. Bowman said. “The almost universal consensus — in Great Britain, in the colonies, in the American states between 1776 and 1787, at the Constitutional Convention and since — has been that criminal conduct is not required for impeachment.”

But the argument is politically convenient for Mr. Trump. For any moderate Republican senator who may not like what the facts already show about his campaign of pressure on Ukraine, the theory provides an alternative rationale to acquit the president.

Read the rest at the NYT.

More analysis from Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes at The Atlantic: Trump’s Impeachment Brief Is a Howl of Rage.

The House managers’ brief is an organized legal document. It starts with the law, the nature and purposes of Congress’s impeachment power, then walks through the evidence regarding the first article of impeachment, which alleges abuse of power, and seeks to show how the evidence establishes the House’s claim that President Trump is guilty of this offense. It then proceeds to argue that the offense requires his removal from office….

By contrast, the White House’s “Answer of President Donald J. Trump” to the articles of impeachment, filed by the president’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow and the White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, does not read like a traditional legal argument at all. It begins with a series of rhetorical flourishes—all of them, to one degree or another, false. The articles of impeachment are “a dangerous attack on the right of the American people to freely choose their President,” the president’s lawyers write—as though the impeachment power were not a constitutional reality every bit as enshrined in the founding document as the quadrennial election of the president. The articles are “a brazen and unlawful attempt to overturn the results of the 2016 election and interfere with the 2020 election,” and are “constitutionally invalid on their face,” they write, as though the president’s right to extort foreign leaders for political services were so beyond reasonable question, it is outrageous that anyone might object to it.

This document reads like one of the president’s speeches at his campaign rallies. The language is a little more lawyerly, if only a little. In Sekulow and Cipollone’s hands, Trump’s cries of “Witch hunt!” have turned into “lawless process that violated basic due process and fundamental fairness.” His allegations that Democrats are a “disgrace” have turned into “an affront to the Constitution.” And Trump’s insistence that there’s a plot to destroy his presidency has become a “highly partisan and reckless obsession with impeaching the president [that] began the day he was inaugurated and continues to this day.”

But the message is unchanged. It’s not a legal argument. It’s a howl of rage.

Read more at The Atlantic.

I’ve tried to lay out the basics; we’ll soon be able to watch what happens in the Senate for ourselves. Please share your reactions as the day goes on, but feel free to post on other topics as well. It should be an interesting day!


Lazy Caturday Reads: “The Man Who Knows Too Much”

Andy Warhol

Good Afternoon!!

The cat illustrations and paintings in this post are by Andy Warhol.

Lev Parnas is still dominating the headlines as we move toward the impeachment trial that is scheduled to begin next week; I’m focusing this post on his revelations and reactions to them. Here’s the latest.

CNN: New documents from Parnas reveal more on possible Yovanovitch surveillance, communication with Nunes aide.

House Democrats on Friday released new documents from indicted Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas ahead of the Senate trial that includes new information about the apparent surveillance of former US Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and additional contacts between Parnas and an aide to Rep. Devin Nunes of California….

The new documents include screenshots of undated text messages that appear to show Robert Hyde, a Republican congressional candidate in Connecticut, messaging with a foreign number from Belgium, which appear to describe efforts to surveil Yovanovitch. Hyde appeared to share the screenshots with Parnas, which is how they wound up on his phone that he turned over to House investigators.

The Belgian country-code number sends Hyde a screenshot of an official photo of Yovanovitch. The Belgium number, whose identity is not known, writes “My contacts are checking,” adding, “I will give you the address next week.”

Hyde replied, “Awesome.”

In another series of texts, the Belgian number tells Hyde at 2:05 p.m., “Nothing has changed she is still not moving they check today again,” shortly adding, “It’s confirmed we have a person inside.”

“She had visitors,” the Belgian number texted in another exchange.

Hyde is claiming it was all a “joke,” but I think we need to know the name of the guy in Belgium.

“I’m a landscaper from Simsbury, Connecticut, that is trying to get into the government relations, public relations world, lobbying world, whatever you want to call it,” Hyde said. “And this guy Adam Schiff is a bad character. … It was just copy and paste b——- from some intel guy — probably that was f—ing with me, trying to set Trump up.”

On Devin Nunes:

The new documents also show communications between Parnas and Nunes aide Derek Harvey, in which they arrange interviews with Ukrainian officials and apparent meetings at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., including with Giuliani.

The new materials draw Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, even further into the efforts undertaken by Giuliani and his associates to push out Yovanovitch in Ukraine and dig up dirt on the President’s political rivals. Last month, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee included in their impeachment inquiry report phone records of calls exchanged between Nunes and Parnas and other allies of President Donald Trump.

Nunes admitted Wednesday to speaking on the phone with Parnas, who has become a key figure in the Ukraine scandal, after previously saying such a conversation would have been “very unlikely.”

Read more at CNN. Also see this piece by Aaron Blake at The Washington Post: New text messages put Devin Nunes on the hot seat.

Betsy Swan at The Daily Beast posted a lengthy article on her interview with Parnas: Lev Parnas Dishes On Kushner, Maduro, and Soros.

A dinner with Jared and Ivanka about cannabis, a phone call from Trump Hotel with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, and a whole lot of theorizing about George Soros. Lev Parnas’ interactions with Trumpworld, in his words, went way beyond the Ukraine influence effort.

The former ally of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani spent more than a year embedded with some of the president’s close outside allies. In that time, he said he had an inside view of all sorts of eyebrow-raising interactions and conversations. He described several of them in an interview with The Daily Beast from his lawyer’s office in Midtown Manhattan.

He spoke at length about his former allies Giuliani, Victoria Toensing, and Joe diGenova. A spokesperson for Toensing and diGenova’s law firm indicated that the topics he discussed were covered by attorney-client privilege. “It is unfortunate that some people will violate the attorney-client privilege,” the spokesperson said. “We cannot.”

Giuliani and his lawyers did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the interview.

The interview is much too long to summarize with excerpts so you’ll have to click the link to read all the gossip.

Lucian K. Truscott IV at Salon: The man who knows too much: Lev Parnas is the smoking gun on Ukraine scandal.

Revelations this week by Rudy Giuliani’s henchman Lev Parnas in interviews with MSNBC, CNN and the New York Times blew Iran out of the headlines and landed on Capitol Hill like a bomb. Here was an insider in the Ukraine conspiracy not only willing to talk, but to provide documents to back up allegations he has made about Trump’s shakedown of Volodymyr Zelensky to get dirt on his potential Democratic opponent, Joe Biden.

Parnas is the reason Republicans are so scared of opening the Senate trial of Trump to witness testimony. According to Parnas, everyone was in on the Ukraine scheme. Trump himself, of course, but also Vice President Mike Pence was in on it. So was Attorney General William Barr, so was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and so were Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and national security adviser John Bolton. At the very center of the scheme, according to Parnas, was the man he worked for, Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

Parnas has letters, text messages, contemporaneous notes, travel documents and more to back up his recollections of what happened as Trump tried to muscle Ukraine into aiding his re-election campaign by announcing an investigation of Biden. Trump was obviously getting ready to pound Biden with Ukraine conspiracy allegations the same way he pounded Hillary Clinton about her emails in 2016. Hey, it worked once! Why not?

After testimony by 10 witnesses before the House Intelligence Committee last fall, new information has continued to roll in. We have recently learned that the order to withhold the $400 million in congressionally appropriated aid to Ukraine came the day after Trump’s “perfect” phone call with the Ukrainian president last July 25. More recently, a series of emails and other contacts at the top of the Trump administration questioning the legality of the sequestering of the funds has come to light. And now we’ve got Parnas and his trove of texts, notes, letters and other documents that back up his stories about working for Giuliani to get former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch fired, and all the machinations surrounding the shakedown of Ukraine’s president and other officials to get them to investigate Biden.

But too little attention has been paid to the oldest question of all: Cui bono? Who benefits? Trump, of course. But how? Was it all about Biden, or was there something else Trump was trying to accomplish? Scratch the surface of the Ukraine scandal, and what you see is Russia, and Trump’s old pal, Vladimir Putin.

Read the rest at Salon. Also worth a read at Slate: New Documents Casually Destroy the Already-Bad Republican Case That Trump’s Ukraine Scheme Was Aboveboard, By Ben Mathis-Lilly.

In case you missed it, Parnas told Rachel Maddow that being in Trump’s orbit is felt like a cult. A new book argues that Trump behaves exactly like a cult leader. Lauren Frias at Business Insider: Lev Parnas and Michael Cohen are right to think working for Trump was like being in a cult, according to a cult expert.

Steve Hassan, a cult expert and author of a book called “The Cult of Trump,” spoke to Insider about the ways in which Trump and his circle behave share characteristics with cults.

“What’s interesting and shocking to me is to hear Lev Parnas describe [Trump] as a cult leader and such, and I’m curious how he arrived to that insight,” Hassan said, referring to an MSNBC interview Parnas gave.

“I knew that Trump fit the stereotypical profile of all cult leaders, which is essentially malignant narcissism, which is the narcissism — plus the psychopathic elements of feeling above the law, the pathological lying, paranoia, the jealousy, the harassment,” he added….

“First of all, cult leaders think they’re above everybody else, above the law, and then everything exists for their adulation,” Hassan said.

“Cult leaders think nothing of using people like pawns to get their way, and it doesn’t matter if there are people on the staff saying this is a bad idea, which apparently Bolton did,” Hassan said. In December The New York Times reported that former national security adviser John Bolton tried to convince Trump to release military aid to Ukraine.

“His will matters more than any rationality and the potential consequence,” Hassan continued.

He said cult leaders also have a tendency to cast out anyone who disagrees with them. He says this can be seen in the record high turnover of staff in the Trump White House.

Read more at Business Insider.

One more by Franklin Foer at The Atlantic: The Kremlin Inches Closer to the Biden PlotLev Parnas pointed his finger at Dmytro Firtash.

Somewhere near the heart of the Ukraine scandal is the oligarch Dmytro Firtash. Evidence has long suggested this fact. But over the past week, in a televised interview and in documents he supplied to Congress, Rudy Giuliani’s former business partner Lev Parnas pointed his finger at the Ukrainian oligarch. According to Parnas, Giuliani’s team had a deal with Firtash. Giulani would get the Justice Department to drop its attempt to extradite the oligarch on bribery charges. In return, according to Parnas, the oligarch promised to pass along evidence that would supposedly discredit both Joe Biden and Robert Mueller.

Parnas’s account, of course, is hardly definitive. Throughout his career, he has attempted to inflate his importance to make money. (Firtash apparently paid him $1 million for his services, though it’s still not totally clear what those services were.) And his description of Firtash’s involvement raises as many questions as it settles. Still, the apparent centrality of Firtash should inform any assessment of Giuliani’s escapades and the entire Ukraine story.

Andy Warhol with kitten, 1957

When commentators invoke the name Dmytro Firtash, it is usually followed by mention of his alleged connections to Russian organized crime and the fact that he is close to the Kremlin. These descriptions, however, understate his ties to Vladimir Putin. In his book Russia’s Crony Capitalism, the Atlantic Council’s Anders Aslund describes Firtash as a “Kremlin Influence agent.” A Ukrainian parliamentarian who investigated Firtash has called him “a political person representing Russian interests in Ukraine.” That representative of Russian interests is who Giuliani and Parnas apparently enlisted as their partner.

The rapid ascent of Firtash, a fireman from western Ukraine, remains mysterious—although he once disgorged details from his past in a long chat with the U.S. ambassador to Kyiv, Bill Taylor, a description of which eventually emerged in a WikiLeaks document dump. But it’s been widely reported that Firtash attached himself to the gangster Semion Mogilevich, one of the region’s most important Mafia bosses, a man the FBI placed on its Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. (His lawyers vociferously deny any connections to gangsters.)

When Putin ascended to power in 2000, he gained control of his country’s natural-gas business. He placed his allies at the helm of the country’s gas monopoly, Gazprom, and he has routinely wielded that company as an instrument of Russian foreign policy. In 2002, Firtash became Gazprom’s most important middleman: He was responsible for selling Russian gas to Ukraine. Thanks to an extraordinary Reuters investigation, which burrowed into Customs documents, contracts, and Cyprus bank accounts, the details of this arrangement are now well known. Gazprom sold Firtash gas at four times below the market price. When Firtash resold the gas to the Ukrainian state, he pocketed a profit of $3 billion. Even as he amassed this fortune, bankers close to Putin extended Firtash an $11 billion line of credit.

Read the rest at The Atlantic. It’s fascinating.

That’s it for me. I hope you all enjoy the long weekend!


Thursday Reads: The Proverbial Sh** Is Hitting The Fan

Good Morning!!

Lately I’ve been feeling as if I’m treading water, waiting to see what is going to happen with impeachment. I felt that way even before Nancy Pelosi finally decided the time was right to do it. In the past few weeks while she held off on transmitting the articles to the Senate, more evidence has become public, and even yesterday as the articles were delivered more shocking news broke. Now it feels as if the proverbial shit is finally hitting the fan.

Former Giuliani pal Lev Parnas turned over documents to the House and those documents were sent to the Senate along with the impeachment articles and then released to the public. The New York Times interviewed him yesterday: Lev Parnas, Key Player in Ukraine Affair, Completes Break With Trump and Giuliani.

Lev Parnas, the Soviet-born businessman who played a central role in the campaign to pressure Ukraine to investigate political rivals of President Trump, completed his break with the White House on Wednesday, asserting for the first time in public that the president was fully aware of the efforts to dig up damaging information on his behalf.

In an interview with The New York Times on the day the House transmitted articles of impeachment against Mr. Trump to the Senate, Mr. Parnas also expressed regret for having trusted Mr. Trump and Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer and the architect of the Ukraine pressure campaign. His lawyer said he was eager to cooperate with federal prosecutors investigating Mr. Giuliani.

Trump with Lev Parnas

Mr. Parnas made his remarks as House impeachment investigators released more material he had turned over to them. The material, including text messages, photos and calendar entries, underscored how deeply Mr. Parnas and others were involved in carrying out the pressure campaign and how new information continues to surface even as the Senate prepares to begin Mr. Trump’s trial next week. And it provided additional evidence that the effort to win political advantage for Mr. Trump was widely known among his allies, showing that Mr. Parnas communicated regularly with two top Republican fund-raisers about what he was up to.

Text messages and call logs show that Mr. Parnas was in contact with Tom Hicks Jr., a donor and Trump family friend, and Joseph Ahearn, who raised money for pro-Trump political groups, about developments in the Ukraine pressure campaign.

In the text messages, Mr. Parnas kept Mr. Hicks and Mr. Ahearn apprised of efforts to disseminate damaging information about targets of Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani, including the United States ambassador to Kyiv, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Ukrainians who spread information about Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman.

The records seem to expand the circle of people around Mr. Trump who were aware in real time of the pressure campaign. The campaign led to Mr. Trump’s impeachment in the House last month and a Senate trial that will start next week just as the 2020 presidential campaign is moving into high gear.

In the interview with The Times, Mr. Parnas said that although he did not speak with Mr. Trump directly about the efforts, he met with the president on several occasions and was told by Mr. Giuliani that Mr. Trump was kept in the loop.

Parnas also gave an interview to Rachel Maddow. Some of it aired on Maddow’s show last night with more to come tonight. Deadline: Rachel Maddow’s Bombshell Interview With Lev Parnas: Trump Was In The Loop, And So Were Many Others.

Rachel Maddow’s interview with Lev Parnas, the former associate of Rudy Giuliani, basically confirmed what House Democrats have been saying all along as they pursued impeachment against Donald Trump: He was very much in the loop.

In Parnas’s words, “President Trump knew exactly what was going on. He knew all of my movements.”

Given that Parnas described a scheme to shakedown the new Ukrainian government until they announced an investigation of Joe Biden, that means a lot, as he described in detail a pressure campaign that was placed on Ukrainian officials.

An early episode came last spring, when Parnas said that he was enlisted to warn an aide to incoming president Volodymyr Zelensky that if an investigation was not announced, Vice President Mike Pence’s visit for Zelensky’s inauguration would be cancelled. The aide refused, and Pence’s visit was canceled.

“I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president,” Parnas said to Maddow.

He also confirmed other claims made during the impeachment inquiry, including the serious charge that aid to Ukraine was withheld as government officials continued to hold off on announcing a Biden investigation. “It wasn’t just military aid; it was all aid” that was under threat of being withheld, Parnas said.

But Trump’s team is likely to spend the next few days trying to discredit Parnas, who, along with another associate, Igor Furman, was arrested in October on campaign finance charges. As Maddow was playing her interview with Parnas, her Fox News rival Sean Hannity was calling MSNBC the “state run, MSNBC conspiracy channel media.”

Lev Parnas, Kevin McCarthy, and Igor Fruman

More on Parnas documents from Politico: Democrats release more Parnas evidence, including voicemails with Trump associates.

House impeachment investigators released a new set of evidence that was obtained from Lev Parnas, an indicted former associate of President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani — including voicemails, photos, and text messages between Parnas and high-level figures within Trump’s orbit.

The material includes voicemail messages Parnas received from Giuliani and Victoria Toensing, a prominent Trump-aligned lawyer, both of whom have been identified as players in an effort to force the removal of the then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, during the spring.

“Hey Lev. VT here. We’ve got a request to talk to the big one,” Toensing said in the April 23, 2019, voicemail message. “So I just wanted to get the latest from you, if I could. I know it’s late there. I’m sorry.”

The timing of the Toensing voicemail coincides with a flurry of activity involving Yovanovitch’s ouster. On April 23, Giuliani tweeted that Ukraine was investigating 2016 election interference, and Trump recalled Yovanovitch from Ukraine on April 24.

The previously undisclosed documents, released late Tuesday night but not publicly noticed, were posted ahead of the House formally sending its impeachment articles to the Senate, underscore the evolving nature of an investigation that House Democrats say is ongoing — and was stifled in its early stages by Trump’s refusal to allow his aides and associates to comply with congressional subpoenas.

The most shocking information that came out of the Parnas documents was the possibility that Trump allies were stalking and perhaps even physically threatening then Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. Parnas told Maddow that he didn’t believe that had actually happened and it was just a fantasy created by a “loony” Trump ally Robert Hyde.

Marie Yovanovitch

Nonetheless, Ukraine has opened an investigation into the possible threat to Yovanovich. NBC News: Ukraine launches probe into alleged surveillance of former U.S. envoy.

Ukraine has launched criminal investigations into the possible illegal surveillance of former U.S. ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, and the reported hacking of Burisma Holdings, the natural gas company at the center of the Trump impeachment.

“Ukraine’s position is not to interfere in the domestic affairs of the United States of America,” the Interior Ministry, which runs the police forces, said in a statement.

However, recent reports pointed to the possible violation of Ukrainian and international law, it said.

“Ukraine cannot ignore such illegal activities on the territory of its own state,” the statement added….

“Our goal is to investigate whether there actually was a violation of Ukrainian and international law, which could be the subject for proper reaction. Or whether it is just bravado and fake information in the informal conversation between two U.S. citizens,” the ministry said.

Some background on Robert Hyde from The Washington Post: GOP figure who said he tracked U.S. ambassador was previously involuntarily committed, records show.

A Republican congressional candidate and former Marine who suggested last year that he was tracking a U.S. ambassador who had fallen out of favor with President Trump was once involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital after an incident at one of the president’s resorts and is the subject of a restraining order obtained by a political consultant, police and court records show.

On Tuesday, Robert F. Hyde became the latest figure to emerge in the drama surrounding the Trump administration’s recall last year of Marie Yovanovitch as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine when his 2019 messages were made public on the eve of Trump’s impeachment trial. His exchanges with an associate of Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, had been turned over to House Democrats in response to a subpoena.

In the messages to Lev Parnas, Hyde claimed to be in contact with a “private security” team near the embassy in Kyiv and suggested that he had the ambassador under physical and electronic surveillance. “It’s confirmed we have a person inside,” he wrote in March.

Robert Hyde with Trump

On Wednesday, Hyde claimed he had been “joking” in the messages he sent to Parnas.

On his social media accounts, Hyde, a long-shot candidate for Congress in Connecticut’s 5th District, has posted numerous photos of himself and Trump or members of the president’s family, many of them taken at Trump properties. He appeared grinning with Trump on Easter at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla.

Among the photos and videos is a picture from a party to which, according to the post, Hyde had taken friends on May 7 at a bowling alley in the White House complex.

The bowling party occurred about a week before police were called to Trump’s Doral resort in Miami-Dade County for a “male in distress fearing for his life,” according to a police report from the incident.

Hyde told officers that he had been “set up and that a hit man was out to get him,” officers wrote. Hyde “spoke about emails he sent that may have placed his life in jeopardy” and said he believed that painters and landscape workers were trying to harm him and that the Secret Service was watching him.

Read more at the links I’ve provided.

I’ve only scratched the surface of today’s news. We have no idea what will happen with impeachment now, except that Mitch McConnell will do his best to protect Trump. He’s planning to shut the media out of the impeachment trial–will he get away with it? It’s beginning to look as if he will have a tough time, as more and more shit hits the media fan. I expect we’ll learn even more today. It’s all going to come out.

Dahlia Lithwick argues that McConnell’s cover-up plan is in big trouble: How Will the Senate Get Away With Its Sham Trial Now?

Interestingly, with an impeachment trial in the Senate raising the stakes perhaps even higher than those for a Supreme Court vacancy, McConnell committed a rare unforced error before Christmas: He proclaimed that Senate Republicans would “be working through this process hopefully in a fairly short period of time, in total coordination with the White House counsel’s office and the people who are representing the president.” This essentially amounts to a confession he’d be rigging up a show trial to acquit the president without hearing any material evidence—not exactly what that whole “trial” mechanism is meant to do, legally speaking. Perhaps as a result of that unfortunate admission, McConnell now has to contend with at least a handful of vulnerable Republicans in the Senate who are not perfectly cool with the “we’re coordinating with Trump to get him acquitted super fast” situation. And as such, we enter this historic week of Senate impeachment with at least the wisp of a hope that there might be a fairer trial ahead than anyone could have anticipated.

That slim hope nests in a variety of cozy places, including but not limited to the prospect that Chief Justice John Roberts has some institutional interests in avoiding a kangaroo trial, the fact that the American public has shown some bipartisan interest in hearing actual testimony from actual witnesses, and the fact that the president appears to continue to conflate his personal political ambitions with the national interest, even after being impeached for precisely that conduct in the House. (Maybe this will finally prove to be too much for even the most casual observer?) Plus, newly released documents from Rudy Giuliani’s indicted Ukraine-gate confederate, Lev Parnas, again confirm that the rough contours of the aid-for-oppo research scheme. But they go even further: The new documents (with more to come) add elements of actual threats to the welfare of a sitting U.S. ambassador, directed by the associates of Trump’s associates, which has implications for Jay Sekulow, Trump’s personal lawyer. Senate Republicans will need to explain why none of this matters and why they want to know nothing more about the back deals and thuggery that, it is now clearer than ever, were conducted under the president’s directive. That means that there is at least a smidgen of hope wafting off senators like Mitt Romney of Utah, who says he’d like to hear testimony from John Bolton, and Susan Collins of Maine, who says she is possibly open to impeachment witnesses and documents, all of which makes it trickier for McConnell to magic up his dream trial of opening statements leading to closing statements leading to a brisk victory lap-slash-acquittal.

Read the rest at Slate.

I’ll post some more links in the comment thread; it’s so difficult to figure out what to highlight these days. I hope you’ll share the stories you are following too.


Tuesday Reads: Pelosi Is Winning On Impeachment, But Russia Is Still Helping Trump.

By Félix Edouard Vallotton

Good Morning!!

Lots of tweeting about Trump and Melania at the LSU-Clemson game yesterday. Melania wore some kind of raincoat that looked like it was made out of garbage bags. More people are starting to notice Trump’s odd standing and walking issues.

See more tweets at Raw Story: Internet speculates about Trump’s strange gait at Clemson vs LSU championship.

There was disagreement about whether Trump or Melania released the other’s hand, but Melania looks angry. Some people suggested she was digging her fingernails into his hand before he let go. Watch and see what you think.

 

Enough gossip, there is also breaking news on impeachment. CNN: Pelosi sets up floor vote as soon as Wednesday to name impeachment managers and send articles to the Senate.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated that that the House will vote Wednesday on a resolution to name the impeachment managers for the Senate trial of President Donald Trump and transmit the articles to the chamber, two sources told CNN on Tuesday.

Pelosi told her Democratic colleagues Tuesday morning at a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill that she won’t announce impeachment managers during that meeting, according to a source familiar with the remarks. Last week, Pelosi told Democrats she planned to discuss plans for sending over the articles of impeachment, which she’s held following a vote last month.

By Belinda Del Pesco

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said on Monday night that the House vote to name the impeachment managers “could be” on Wednesday, adding that the Senate has “practical problems” if they were to move sooner since three Democratic senators are participating in the presidential debate.

After a several week delay to formally send the articles, Pelosi’s move will kick the impeachment fight officially into the Senate’s court, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is readying a resolution of his own to set out the rules of the trial.

It looks like Pelosi’s decision to hold onto the articles for a few weeks is paying off. The New York Times: Republicans Rule Out Outright Dismissal of Impeachment Charges.

Senate Republicans indicated on Monday that they would not seek to summarily dismiss the impeachment charges against President Trump, proceeding instead to a trial with arguments and the possibility of calling witnesses that could begin as soon as Wednesday.

Dismissal was always a long shot given Republicans’ narrow control of the Senate, but it was the subject of renewed discussion after Mr. Trump said on Sunday that he liked the idea put forward by some conservatives as a way to deny the House’s case the legitimacy of a trial. Other Republicans had signed on to a resolution that would have dismissed the House’s impeachment articles if they were not promptly brought to trial.

In interviews, rank-and-file senators and party leaders made clear on Monday that even if they wanted to pursue dismissal, the votes simply were not there to succeed — at least not at the outset of the trial. They did not rule out considering a motion to dismiss the charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress after opening arguments from both sides.

“Our members generally are not interested in a motion to dismiss,” said Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, a top Republican leader. “They think both sides need to be heard. They believe the president needs to be heard for the first time in a fair setting.”

By Henri Lebasque

Mitch doesn’t have the votes for dismissal anymore. The Washington Post: Top Senate Republicans reject Trump’s renewed call for immediate dismissal of impeachment charges.

On Monday, senior Republicans said immediate dismissal could not win approval in the chamber, where Republicans hold a 53-seat majority. And even some staunch Trump allies argued that the president’s legacy would benefit from a robust trial.

“I don’t think there’s any interest on our side of dismissing,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the fourth-ranking GOP senator. “Certainly, there aren’t 51 votes for a motion to dismiss.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said that he wants the trial — only the third impeachment of a president in U.S. history — to follow the format used 21 years ago in the trial of President Bill Clinton. In that case, the Senate approved a resolution that would have allowed the Senate to vote to dismiss the charges.

But senior Republicans signaled Monday that they are not inclined to include such a provision in the resolution that will kick off Trump’s trial, perhaps as soon as Thursday….

Another GOP senator, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss legislation that is not yet public, also said the inclusion of a provision to dismiss is unlikely.

Even the White House now admits there are going to be witnesses, according to CBS News: White House expects GOP defections on calling witnesses in Senate impeachment trial.

Senior White House officials tell CBS News they increasingly believe that at least four Republicans, and likely more, will vote to call witnesses. In addition to Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah and possibly Cory Gardner of Colorado, the White House also views Rand Paul of Kentucky as a “wild card” and Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee as an “institutionalist” who might vote to call witnesses, as one official put it.

By Edouard Vuillard

Last week, Collins said she was working with a “fairly small group” of GOP senators to allow new testimony, adding that her colleagues “should be completely open to calling witnesses.” Romney has expressed an interest in hearing from former national security adviser John Bolton, who has said he would testify under subpoena. Murkowski said last week that the Senate should proceed as it did during the 1999 Clinton impeachment trial.

Gardner and Alexander have both said the Senate trial should be fair and impartial. Paul has said the president should be able to call his own witnesses, including the whistleblower whose complaint about Ukraine sparked the impeachment inquiry in the first place.

More on Rand Paul from Politico: Republicans face reckoning on impeachment witnesses.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul offered a warning to his colleagues as they began debating whether to hear from witnesses like John Bolton in President Donald Trump’s imminent impeachment trial.

“Don’t think you can just vote for Bolton and not the witnesses Trump wants,” Paul told senators at a party lunch last week, according to two attendees and two people briefed on the meeting. He advised that incumbent senators’ conservative base would be enraged if vulnerable lawmakers were seen as undercutting Trump.

The blunt advice from Paul laid bare the GOP’s perilous task in handling Trump’s impeachment trial in an election year, all while the president delivers stage directions on his Twitter account. Trump over the weekend first requested that House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and even Speaker Nancy Pelosi appear as witnesses, then argued a few hours later that the trial should be dismissed summarily before it begins….

By Patrick Bornemann

The GOP has tried to stay focused on its game plan to shut down Democratic hopes of locking in witnesses at the outset of the trial, but it’s become increasingly clear the party will face an internal reckoning during the trial as it defends its Senate majority and faces a president who demands complete loyalty.

In other news, The New York Times broke this stunning story last night: Russians Hacked Ukrainian Gas Company at Center of Impeachment

With President Trump facing an impeachment trial over his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter Biden, Russian military hackers have been boring into the Ukrainian gas company at the center of the affair, according to security experts.

The hacking attempts against Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company on whose board Hunter Biden served, began in early November, as talk of the Bidens, Ukraine and impeachment was dominating the news in the United States.

It is not yet clear what the hackers found, or precisely what they were searching for. But the experts say the timing and scale of the attacks suggest that the Russians could be searching for potentially embarrassing material on the Bidens — the same kind of information that Mr. Trump wanted from Ukraine when he pressed for an investigation of the Bidens and Burisma, setting off a chain of events that led to his impeachment.

The Russian tactics are strikingly similar to what American intelligence agencies say was Russia’s hacking of emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman and the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential campaign. In that case, once they had the emails, the Russians used trolls to spread and spin the material, and built an echo chamber to widen its effect.

Then, as now, the Russian hackers from a military intelligence unit known formerly as the G.R.U., and to private researchers by the alias “Fancy Bear,” used so-called phishing emails that appear designed to steal usernames and passwords, according to Area 1, the Silicon Valley security firm that detected the hacking. In this instance, the hackers set up fake websites that mimicked sign-in pages of Burisma subsidiaries, and have been blasting Burisma employees with emails meant to look like they are coming from inside the company.

By Ethel Sands

Russia is still listening to what Trump wants them to do. And don’t forget, they could also have planted fake information to be released at appropriate times. They did that in 2016 when they hacked John Podesta’s emails.

At The Washington Post, former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul warns: Be prepared to fight a dangerous new wave of disinformation during the Senate trial.

In a matter of days, U.S. senators will be exercising one of their most solemn constitutional duties as they take part in the second phase of the impeachment process. When they do so, they — and the rest of us — should take heed of Hill’s warning. By now it should be amply clear that Russian-style disinformation tactics, whether employed by Russians or Americans, represent a major threat to American democracy.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his proxies deploy several methods of disinformation to strengthen their power and influence. The first is to deny facts. For instance, Putin initially denied that Russian soldiers had seized control of Crimea in February 2014, denies Russian involvement in the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July 2014, and denies any Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

A second tactic is to deflect attention from the facts, also known as “whataboutism.” When criticized about Crimean annexing Crimea, Putin’s media shoot back, what about Kosovo? Or New Mexico? When criticized about civilian casualties from Russian military intervention in Syria, Kremlin defenders retort, what about Iraq, Vietnam or Hiroshima? When confronted with evidence of Russian meddling in U.S. elections, the Russian standard refrain is, you do it all the time.

By Harold Knight

A third practice is the dissemination of lies. Russian state media once asserted that President Barack Obama and former Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi embraced the same ideology. I may be more sensitive than most about this tactic, because when I was serving as U.S. ambassador to Russia, Kremlin media outlets accused me of fomenting revolution against Putin’s regime; perhaps most disgustingly of all, a video was circulated suggesting I was a pedophile. When Putin met with President Trump in July 2018 in Helsinki, the Russian president again lied about me, claiming I had broken Russian law while working in the White House.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

More stories to check out, links only:

The Daily Beast: Warren and Sanders’ Famous Friendship Finally Ices Over.

Business Insider: Trump needed to show Soleimani was an imminent threat to assassinate him — and could be in dangerous legal territory now he’s abandoned the argument.

The Daily Beast: Jitters at MSNBC as Brass Eyes Moving Chuck Todd and Talks to Shep Smith.

NPR: Here Are The Lawyers Who Will Defend President Trump Against Impeachment.

The Washington Post: Trump retweeted Pelosi in Muslim garb. The White House made it worse.

NBC News: Muslim groups denounce Trump retweet of fake Pelosi-Schumer photo.

Courthouse News Service: Trump Campaign Adviser Pleads Guilty to Child Porn, Sex Trafficking.

The Daily Beast: U.S. Embassies Were Never Told of Supposed Soleimani Threat Because It Didn’t Exist: Officials.

So . . . what else is happening? What stories are you following today?


Tuesday Reads: Lying Dotard Precipitates Apocalypse

Coffee, by Pierre Bonnard

Good Afternoon!!

Yesterday, Dakinikat eloquently articulated the mess Trump has made of our once powerful nation. I have to agree with her that it looks like the “American Century” is ending. Will the U.S. go the of the British empire? Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing if we could get rid of Trump and McConnell and elect leaders who are committed to upholding the Constitution and protecting democracy.

Who knows what will happen? But right now we are dealing with a possible apocalypse led by an demented old man who spends most of his time either playing golf or watching Fox News. There are no more “adults” advising him–if there ever were–and two of the most powerful people in his administration are end-of-the-world evangelicals Pence and Pompeo. And those two seem just fine with Trump starting a war with Iran.

We have a long way to go before the November election and I don’t have a lot of faith in any of the Democratic presidential candidates. I hope I’m wrong.

As for impeachment, we still don’t know if there will be a real trial in the Senate. Bolton says he will testify, but he knows it’s unlikely the Republican Senate will ask him to.

So that’s where things stand today. Here’s the latest news and opinion from around the internet.

Tsuguaru Fujita At the Cafe

There’s been another natural disaster in Puerto Rico. The Washington Post: Puerto Rico earthquake Tuesday morning triggers blackout, reports of injuries and at least one dead.

A powerful 6.4-magnitude earthquake off Puerto Rico’s southwestern coast early Tuesday morning has triggered a widespread blackout, interrupted telecommunications and sent homeowners scrambling out of collapsing homes in towns near the epicenter.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the shaking began about 4:24 a.m. and was followed by intense aftershocks, including a 6.0-magnitude shock wave that also was felt across the U.S. territory. As the sun rose on Puerto Rico, reports of significant damage and injuries were beginning to emerge from areas already impacted by a 5.8-magnitude quake on Monday that destroyed homes and a natural rock formation that was a signature coastal tourist attraction. The Tuesday morning earthquake briefly triggered tsunami-warning sirens and authorities alerted residents that a tsunami was possible — but that warning was later canceled.

Gov. Wanda Vásquez Garced told government employees to stay home as more aftershocks are expected throughout the day. Emergency personnel are evaluating the damage and inspecting Puerto Rico’s power generation plants — all of which are located along the southern coast near the origin of the seismic activity.

Gladyra Archilla, a spokesperson for the city of Ponce, confirmed that a 77-year-old man was killed when a wall in his home fell on top of him. Emergency personnel are trying to rescue one other person in that home who is pinned under debris. Archilla said that many local buildings in the southern city were damaged.

Michelle Goldberg at The New York Times on the dire U.S. political situation: The Nightmare Stage of Trump’s Rule Is Here.

After three harrowing years, we’ve reached the point many of us feared from the moment Donald Trump was elected. His decision to kill Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, Iran’s second most important official, made at Mar-a-Lago with little discernible deliberation, has brought the United States to the brink of a devastating new conflict in the Middle East.

Mickalene Thomas, Portrait of Mnonja, 2010

We don’t yet know how Iran will retaliate, or whether all-out war will be averted. But already, NATO has suspended its mission training Iraqi forces to fight ISIS. Iraq’s Parliament has voted to expel American troops — a longtime Iranian objective. (On Monday, U.S. forces sent a letter saying they were withdrawing from Iraq in response, only to then claim that it was a draft released in error.) On Sunday, Iran said it will no longer be bound by the remaining restrictions on its nuclear program in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the deal that Trump abandoned in 2018. Trump has been threatening to commit war crimes by destroying Iran’s cultural sites and tried to use Twitter to notify Congress of his intention to respond to any Iranian reprisals with military escalation.

The administration has said that the killing of Suleimani was justified by an imminent threat to American lives, but there is no reason to believe this. One skeptical American official told The New York Times that the new intelligence indicated nothing but “a normal Monday in the Middle East,” and Democrats briefed on it were unconvinced by the administration’s case. The Washington Post reported that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — who last year agreed with a Christian Broadcasting Network interviewer that God might have sent Trump to save Israel from the “Iranian menace” — has been pushing for a hit on Suleimani for months.

Read the rest at the NYT.

Also at The New York Times, David Leonhardt writes: No One Believes Trump.Which isn’t good in an international crisis.

“This is where having credibility — and having a president who didn’t lie about everything — would be really, really helpful,” Samantha Power, the former United States ambassador to the United Nations, wrote recently.

Jean Edouard Vuillard, Lucy Hessel reading

A president with credibility would be better able to persuade foreign governments to help protect American diplomats and military members who are now at risk.

A president with credibility would be more likely to beat Iran in the global court of public opinion.

A president with credibility would be able to set clear red lines that might influence Iran’s behavior in coming weeks.

But President Trump has no credibility. His political rise was built on a lie (about Barack Obama’s birthplace). He has told thousands of untruths since becoming president. He appears to be lying again — about why he ordered the assassination of Qassim Suleimani, Iran’s most significant military leader.

To emphasize Trump’s lack of credibility, here’s stunning piece of fact-checking at The Washington Post: Anatomy of a Trump rally: 67 percent of claims are false or lacking evidence.

We’re kicking off the new year with a line-by-line fact check of President Trump’s longest rally to date.

It was the Moby Dick of fact-checking assignments, a two-hour tornado of false and bewildering claims. Trump was in rare form. The rally was held Dec. 18, just as the House was voting to impeach him.

The president surpassed 15,400 false or misleading claims as of Dec. 10, according to our database tracking all of his suspect statements. But it’s worth drilling down on his rallies. They’ve gotten longer over time, and they’re a key part of Trump’s reelection bid, drawing supporters by the thousands.

By Ron Francis

We wanted to do the math and find out whether the president speaks more fictions or facts in front of his crowds. We focused only on statements of material fact at the December rally in Michigan, avoiding trivialities and opinions. We didn’t double-count statements when the president repeated himself.

According to our analysis, the truth took a beating once again. From a grand total of 179 factual statements we identified, 67 percent were false, mostly false or unsupported by evidence.

Read the detailed analysis of the rally at the WaPo link.

At Rolling Stone, Mark Binelli attempts to explain what happened to the old Lindsey Graham: How Lindsey Graham Lost His Way.

Over the course of his three terms representing South Carolina in the Senate, Graham had become predominantly known for two things: extreme hawkishness on foreign policy, following the lead of his close friend and mentor, the late Arizona Sen. John McCain, and a bipartisan streak that resulted in high-profile attempts to cut big deals on issues like immigration reform and climate change. A former senior staffer for a Democratic senator who has worked alongside Graham on bipartisan legislation tells me, “Like John McCain, he was a conservative Republican, but it was always worth asking where he was going to be on a particular issue, because he wasn’t completely beholden to party orthodoxy. He’d often be way out ahead of his staff, negotiating on the Senate floor unbeknownst to them, and they would be playing catch-up.”

Will Folks, a conservative political blogger in South Carolina, says, “The joke here is Graham has a ‘count to six’ approach to governing: He spends the first four years of his term doing whatever he wants, veering off toward the left, and then the last two years, when the electorate is paying more attention, he comes right.”

On the Green Bank, Sanary, 1911 Hanri Lebasque

Graham is “never flustered, and just a natural at dealing with people who don’t like him,” says David Woodard, a political-science professor at Clemson University who ran Graham’s first two campaigns for the House of Representatives and recalls the first-term congressman as quickly becoming the unofficial social director for his freshman class, though he added, “You’re going to find Lindsey knows a lot of people, but he’s not close to anybody.”

Like much of the GOP establishment, Graham had opposed Trump during the 2015 primary, but he spoke out more forcefully than most, and in the general election, he wrote in third-party candidate Evan McMullin. Which has made his subsequent capitulation all the more breathtaking, even in the context of a modern Republican Party completely transformed into the party of Trump.

Read the rest at Rolling Stone.

More stories of possible interest, links only:

CNN: Senate GOP swing votes sidestep questions about Bolton testimony.

Neal Katyal and Joshua Geltzer at The Washington Post: Trump wants us to trust him on Iran. Without a real impeachment trial, we can’t.

The Texas Tribune: Former Castro supporters in Texas switch to Biden after Castro drops out.

The New York Times: Pentagon Rules Out Striking Iranian Cultural Sites, Contradicting Trump.

Reuters: Iran considering 13 ‘revenge scenarios’ after U.S. strike: report.

The Washington Post: Russian trolls are targeting American veterans, and Trump’s government isn’t helping, group says.

Courthouse News Service: Feds to Hand Over Roger Stone Records to Media Outlets.

The Washington Post: The old Nikki Haley called for civility. The new one just said Democrats are ‘mourning’ a terrorist.


Lazy Caturday Reads: Trump’s Stupid Iran Gambit

Good Afternoon!!

There are several articles at major news sources today claiming to describe the process by which Trump decided to kill Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. Sorry, I don’t buy it. Trump doesn’t make decisions in the orderly manner in which aides and gullible reporters like to describe. I think this Twitter thread by The Hoarse Whisperer makes more sense.

This article at The Daily Beast supports Hoarse’s argument: Trump Told Mar-a-Lago Pals to Expect ‘Big’ Iran Action ‘Soon.’

In the five days prior to launching a strike that killed Iran’s most important military leader, Donald Trump roamed the halls of Mar-a-Lago, his private resort in Florida, and started dropping hints to close associates and club-goers that something huge was coming.

According to three people who’ve been at the president’s Palm Beach club over the past several days, Trump began telling friends and allies hanging at his perennial vacation getaway that he was working on a “big” response to the Iranian regime that they would be hearing or reading about very “soon.” His comments went beyond the New Year’s Eve tweet he sent out warning of the “big price” Iran would pay for damage to U.S. facilities. Two of these sources tell The Daily Beast that the president specifically mentioned he’d been in close contact with his top national security and military advisers on gaming out options for an aggressive action that could quickly materialize.

“He kept saying, ‘You’ll see,’” one of the sources recalled, describing a conversation with Trump days before Thursday’s strike.

Meanwhile, he told Congress nothing. This thread that JJ pointed me too is also very helpful. I won’t post the whole thing because it’s long; but I highly recommend reading the whole thing on Twitter.

Read the rest on Twitter.

More Iran reads:

Abigail Tracy and Vanity Fair: “The Administration’s Track Record Doesn’t Inspire Confidence”: After Killing Soleimani, Trump Confronts a Credibility Gap.

The Washington defense and diplomatic communities are not exactly mourning the death of Qasem Soleimani, a powerful Iranian commander who was killed by a U.S. airstrike on Thursday night. “Soleimani was a murderer and the major source of violence in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon for three decades,” said, former ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns, echoing a near-unanimous position. “He was an enemy of the U.S., responsible for hundreds of American deaths.”

But many in Washington believe that the killing of this dangerous man made the world a much more dangerous place, and now, in a moment of ominous quiet, a new landscape is being mapped. Among diplomats I spoke with familiar with the region, there was little doubt that Iran would respond forcefully to Soleimani’s killing. “A real retaliation is going to come months from now,” a former ambassador to a country in the region said. And Iranian leadership left little doubt that this would be the case. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, called for three days of national mourning and vowed revenge. “His departure to God does not end his path or his mission, but a forceful revenge awaits the criminals who have his blood and the blood of the other martyrs last night on their hands,” he said in a statement. Thus far, clarity is lacking as to how the decision to kill Soleimani was made, and the diplomatic corp, deeply skeptical of Trump to begin with, tends to see it as an impulsive act. “It was of course a serious escalation,” said a former diplomat who worked on Middle East issues, “and seemingly devoid of strategic rationale.”

Does Trump know what’s next? Of course not.

There is also an acute fear within the diplomatic community that the Trump administration has failed to plot its next moves on the chessboard. “The emphasis now should be on de-escalation. But we [have] every reason to assume that Trump has not thought through the full implications of this event and the repercussions it will unleash. In other words, there likely is no strategy in place to de-escalate,” Suzanne DiMaggio, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment and Iran expert, told me. “When Trump violated the Iran nuclear deal, official communications with Tehran were severed. There is no deconfliction channel. With a hollowed-out State Department, we do not have the capacity to carry out the intense diplomacy required to manage a spiraling crisis.”

Read more expert opinions at the Vanity Fair link.

Wesley Clark at The Washington Post: Killing a top Iranian military leader was a whack-for-tat move.

Like the killing of Osama bin Laden, the strike on Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad on Thursday appears to be a stunning confirmation of U.S. military and intelligence capabilities. Like bin Laden, Soleimani was responsible for many American deaths; the Quds Force he led targeted and killed Americans, as bin Laden’s al-Qaeda did.

But there the similarities end. Soleimani was no stateless outlaw. He was a decorated public figure in a nation of more than 80 million people. He was the most renowned of the Iranian generals, hugely popular within Iran — and in Iraq, where supporters of an Iranian-backed militia stormed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad early this week.

If the killing of Soleimani was a response to that attack, it was clearly disproportionate: We suffered no casualties in the embassy standoff. Proportionality might have been some diplomatic pressure on Iranian authorities in Iraq or elsewhere or, a notch up, seizing another Iranian ship. That makes what comes next highly unpredictable. And failing to think ahead to the likely Iranian next steps is extremely dangerous….

No doubt the attack was intended to be preemptive as well as punitive. Soleimani and his team were certainly planning responses to U.S. actions. But here the question is whether this strike prevented further Iranian strikes or simply made escalation inevitable. Regardless of Soleimani’s charisma or strategic genius, it’s unlikely that the loss of a leader will so cripple Iran’s capacity to strike back that the escalatory cycle will be broken.

More at the WaPo link.

David Corn and Matt Cohen at Mother Jones: With a War Against Iran Brewing, Don’t Listen to the Hawks Who Lied Us Into Iraq.

Shortly after the news broke that a US airstrike in Baghdad ordered by President Donald Trump had killed Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s Quds Force, Ari Fleischer went on Fox News and proclaimed, “I think it is entirely possible that this is going to be a catalyst inside Iran where the people celebrate this killing of Soleimani.”

Here we go again.

Fleischer was press secretary for President George W. Bush when the Bush-Cheney administration deployed a long stretch of false statements and lies—Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with al Qaeda! Saddam had WMDs! Saddam intended to use WMDs against the United States! Saddam’s defeat would lead to peace and democracy in Iraq and throughout the region!—to grease the way to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. In that position, Fleischer was a key spokesperson for the war. Prior to the invasion, he promised the war would lead to a bright future: “Once the Iraqi people see that Saddam and those around him will be removed from power, they’ll welcome freedom, they’ll be a liberated people.” Instead, Iraq and the region were wracked with destabilization and death that continues to this day. About 200,000 Iraqi civilians lost their lives in the chaos and violence the Bush-Cheney invasion unleashed, and 4,500 US soldiers were killed in their war.

Back then, Fleischer was just one of many cheerleaders for the Iraq war inside and outside the administration. In the aftermath of 9/11, Bush-Cheney officials (including Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney), neocon pundits, Capitol Hill lawmakers, and some liberal pundits were beating the drums of war, inciting the public with claims that Saddam was a direct and immediate threat to the United States. They insisted that a war with Iraq would be quick, easy, and cheap and turn Iraq and the Middle East into a bastion of democracy brimming with gratitude to the United States. They were wrong, they were misguided, they were arrogant, and in some cases they outright lied to whip up fear and boost popular support for the war. With Trump’s attack in Baghdad prompting talk about another US war in the Middle East, it’s a good time to remember those who misled the public prior to the Iraq war, so if they now try to participate in the national discourse about Trump’s potential war with Iran, we won’t get fooled again. At least not by them.

Read the rest at Mother Jones.

Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine: Trump Thinks Attacking Iran Will Get Him Reelected. He’s Wrong.

Beginning in 2011, and continuing through the next year, Donald Trump began obsessively predicting that President Obama would start a war with Iran in order to be reelected. Trump stated it publicly, on at least a half-dozen occasions, explicitly positing that attacking Iran would help Obama win reelection.

Trump posted tweets on that same theme throughout 2012, including just weeks before Obama’s victory over Republican candidate Sen. Mitt Romney….

Just like Trump’s notions that Obama would direct his attorney general whom to investigate or not, or pressure the Federal Reserve to loosen the money supply in order to help his party win the next election, Trump’s attacks on Obama were the purest form of projection. They reflect his cynical belief that every president will naturally abuse their powers, and thus provide a roadmap to his own intentions.

And indeed, Trump immediately followed the killing of Qasem Soleimani by metaphorically wrapping himself in the stars and stripes. No doubt he anticipates at least a faint echo of the rally-around-the-flag dynamic that has buoyed many of his predecessors. But Trump’s critics need not assume he will enjoy any such benefit, and should grasp that their own response will help determine it.Clic

One salient fact is that it’s not 2001, or even 2003. A poll earlier this summer found that just 18 percent of Americans prefer to “take military action against Iran” as against 78 percent wanting to “rely mainly on economic and diplomatic efforts.”

Click the link to read the rest.

More from CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski: